Author: Emily Reimer-Barry

Uncovering the “Hidden Rules” of Poverty

How much do you really know about the day-to-day struggles of the poor in the U.S.? If, like me, you find yourself comfortably in the middle class, you might find it difficult to understand the worldview of a person in generational poverty.  This raises serious questions about the appropriate moral responses to such situations, given our call to be in solidarity with the poor and to transform sinful social structures. According to the U.S. Census, the official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3%, up from 13.2% in 2008. In 2009, 43.6 million people were in poverty in the U.S. Between 2008-2009, the poverty rate increased for children under the age of 18 (from 19% to 20.7%). The current economic downturn has made it even more difficult for families who were already at or below the poverty line. And, as Alison St. John reported yesterday morning on my local public radio station, many California families have found that the social safety net is stretched thinner and thinner. The recent California budget cuts will have a devastating effect in many poor families in California. Starting next week, if families earn even 88% of the federal poverty level ($22,050 for a family of four), they no longer qualify for state welfare benefits. The lifetime limit on receiving benefits will drop from five years to four. And thousands of single moms could lose childcare...

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California Prisoners and the Common Good

On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the state of California to reduce its prisoner population because of severe overcrowding. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained that the state’s failure to meet constitutional requirements has caused “needless suffering and death.” The Brown v. Plata decision is published here by the Los Angeles Times. There has been a lot of fear-based reporting of this story, but Governor Brown is not immediately ordering the release of 40,000 violent offenders. How did we get here? A prison system built to hold 80,000 inmates now houses 143,335. Some say that we need to build more prisons. Others argue that the federal government should take over the detention of illegal immigrants so that the state prison system is not burdened with undocumented offenders. Some argue that we need to change the sentencing guidelines to prevent the incarceration of nonviolent offenders who could benefit from drug courts or rehabilitation programs on supervised release. Others say California should change the parole requirements as other states have done. Some argue that the county jail system could house state inmates to relieve overcrowding in prisons. And given the state’s severe budget crisis, the cost of each proposal is going to be heavily scrutinized. The LA Times reports that Governor Brown’s current proposal to transfer some inmates to county jails will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and...

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Renewed Debate about Torture and Useful Intelligence

As more details about the killing of Osama Bin Laden are released, one of the questions that has surfaced is whether the CIA relied on intelligence resulting from the torture of terrorist suspects held in detention facilities abroad. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite wrote a compelling Op-Ed in the Washington Post On Faith board, in which she argues that torture is both inherently wrong and counterproductive. As Catholics react to the unfolding news, we should remain attentive to the rich wisdom of the just war tradition. The Torture is a Moral Issue campaign, linked here on the USCCB website, explains: Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved-policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable. Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now-without exceptions. Food for thought as we continue to reflect on the unfolding...

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How should we measure the value of higher education?

As we enter the month of May, we enter the season of college graduation–that season of final exams, grading, commencement invitations, and the inevitable round of conversations regarding the value of a college degree. Many are well aware of the influence of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. In a recent essay appearing in The Atlantic, “Professor X” asks the provocative question: “Is all this higher education really necessary?” He describes “mounting skepticism about the value of a college degree,” even as tuition costs continue to rise. And all of this is amidst an increasingly consumerist model of higher education, where the implicit goal seems to be: diploma, job, big fat paycheck. Professor X compares his experience of college in the 1970s with his more recent teaching position at a small private college After describing his own college experience, he compares it to contemporary campus culture: “College wasn’t the old place of retreat and meditation that I remembered–a place to quietly condition one’s mind with four years of intellectual crunches and sets and reps. It no longer seemed that intellectual a place at all. Now it was a place where students accumulated credits to advance at their jobs. College was very much part of the workaday world. All kinds of people attended because, if they wanted a bigger paycheck, they had no choice in the matter. The...

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Removal of Australian Bishop Raises New Questions

The National Catholic Reporter posted a story today (via Cindy Wooden of CNS) about the removal of Bishop William Morris of the Diocese of Toowoomba, Australia. This follows an apostolic visitation by Archbishop Chaput of the U.S. Diocese of Denver, Colorado. Bishop Morris issued a letter in which he explained that he has not been granted access to the report written by Bishop Chaput, and that “without due process it has been impossible to resolve these matters, denying me natural justice without any possibility of appropriate defense and advocacy on my behalf.” Bishop Morris did not want to resign, but negotiated early retirement, albeit “with profound sadness.” Why was Bishop Morris removed? Cindy Wooden writes that it is because of his Advent Pastoral Letter of 2006, in which he indicated he would be “open to ordaining women and married men if church rules changed to allow such a possibility.” The removal of Bishop Morris, without a public explanation, raises some serious questions. I wonder, what is this really about? Is this about ordination? Is “openness” to women’s ordination a sign of infidelity? What would due process look like in this case? Why was Archbishop Charles Chaput appointed as Apostolic Visitor to the Diocese of Toowoomba? Anne M. Burke, former chairperson of the USCCB National Review Board, wrote an Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribute on April 29, in which she...

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